IRAN’S BACKYARD. Britain’s Chatham House has released a report, “Iran, its Neighbors, and Regional Crises” (.pdf), that bluntly states that, as a result of the US’s elimination of its chief regional rivals, the regimes of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and the Afghan Taliban, “there is little doubt that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East.” Among the report’s key findings:

Iran’s influence in Iraq has superseded that of the US, and it is increasingly rivalling the US as the main actor at the crossroads between the Middle East and Asia. Its role within other war- torn areas such as Afghanistan and southern Lebanon has now increased hugely. This is compounded by the failure of the US and its allies to appreciate the extent of Iran?s regional relationships and standing – a dynamic which is the key to understanding Iran?s newly found confidence and belligerence towards the West. As a result, the US-driven agenda for confronting Iran is severely compromised by the confident ease with which Iran sits in its region. …

On hostility with the US, the report argues that while the US may have the upper hand in ?hard? power projection, Iran has proved far more effective through its use of ?soft’ power. According to the report, the Bush administration has shown little ability to use politics and culture to pursue its strategic interests while Iran?s knowledge of the region, its fluency in the languages and culture, strong historical ties and administrative skills have given it a strong advantage over the West.

How the US could enhance its soft power in the region and beyond is the frequent subject of the work of among others, co-blogger Suzanne Nossel, and her Democracy Arsenal colleague Shadi Hamid.